Common Truths and Myths about Procrastination. How to Cure from Procrastination?

Updated on August 23rd, 2023

January 23rd 2023

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  • Let’s be real: we have all struggled with procrastination at some point in our lives. But how to get rid of this unwanted and detrimental habit?

  • In this article, we discuss the most common myths and truths about procrastination.

  • We also introduce the common sources of procrastination.

  • We also introduce practical everyday strategies that will make it simpler to take action and prevent procrastination.

What Is Procrastination?

Procrastination is often called “the art of doing nothing until it is too late to do anything.” Or, just as the world-class expert on procrastination, Dr Tim Pychyl, likes to say: “if it isn’t in your calendar, you are procrastinating.”

Since the down of humanity, people have been putting off doing things. We were postponing, evading, and delaying matters vital to us for as long as humankind has existed. Let’s be real: we have all struggled with procrastination at some point in our lives.

When we quit procrastinating during our more productive periods, we feel content and successful. But for the most people, this remains, unfortunately, a transient and ephemeral feeling.

This “state of behaving against your better judgment” occurs when you act a certain way, even when you know you should act differently. Ancient Greek philosophers Aristotle and Socrates coined the term “akrasia” to name this specific attitude. Akrasia is loosely interpreted as procrastination or a lack of emotional control.

In this article, we will discuss how to turn those infrequently occurring moments of flow into regular occurrences. We aim to explain the science behind delaying tasks and introduce practical tactics that will make it simpler to take action and prevent procrastination.

“Procrastination makes easy things hard, hard things harder.”

— Mason Cooley

Common Myths About Procrastination.

1. Procrastination Means Laziness.

As explained by Itamar Shatz, PhD, procrastination and laziness are separate concepts. Procrastination means delaying unnecessarily, whereas laziness means unwillingness to make necessary effort.

It is possible to procrastinate without being lazy or to be lazy but without procrastinating. For instance, if you delay a big project because you feel overwhelmed with the amount of responsibility put on your shoulders, it doesn’t mean that you are lazy.

In fact, procrastination can be caused by multiple factors, including anxiety and work-related stress, overwhelming responsibility or amount of duties, perfectionism, lack of motivation, or cognitive disability such as ADHD.

Especially perfectionism and low levels of self-compassion seem to be a risk factor for developing tendency for procrastination. Procrastinators seem to be extremely hard on themselves and instead of just starting a task, they follow unrealistic standards and fall into perfectionist paralysis: they go round and round spinning their wheels. 

Interestingly, according to research studies chronic procrastinators tend to have larger grey matter volume in the amygdala, a brain part that processes emotions and signals threats, capable of prompting a ‘fight or flight’ response linked to procrastination. This might mean that procrastination is associated with stress susceptibility and stress regulation.

2. Procrastination Is A Consequence of Having Poor Priorities — or None At All.

Setting priorities might indeed lead to procrastination. Whenever we declare that something is our top priority, we put pressure on ourselves and are more afraid of failure. 

For example, if you are obsessed with a vision of becoming a successful athlete, every defeat serves as a reminder that you are failing at a task essential for you.

3. Procrastination Is A Problem of Lousy Time-Management.

Many professionals believe that everything would be OK if only they improved on their planning skills. They think that all procrastination issues would be solved if we were better at arranging our agenda, notes, et cetera. 

In reality, it is usually the other way around: planning and arranging a work station are frequently used as means of procrastination. We over plan and overthink instead of putting the same energy into action.

Having that said, as a rule of thumb, it is still highly beneficial to actively work on your time management skills as it might help you combat the tendency to procrastinate. 

For instance, you might: 

“Procrastination is the thief of time.”

—Charles Dickens

4. A Tendency To Procrastinate is a Personality Trait That Cannot Be Changed.

This is a controversial subject. Genetic research in identical and fraternal twins featured in Psychological Science, concluded that genes might be responsible for about 46% of our tendency to procrastinate, which is considered a high genetic impact. 

Moreover, voxel-based morphometry studies have demonstrated that the tendency to procrastinate has certain correlates in the brain such as increased gray matter volume of clusters in the parahippocampal gyrus and the orbitofrontal cortex, the two key regions in self-control and emotion regulation.

Yet still, to a large extent, procrastination is a product of counterproductive habits rather than an inborn personality trait. This habit can be changed by learning the reasons behind procrastination, paying active effort, and self-discipline. To learn more on how to modify habits, please take a look at the famous best-selling book “Atomic Habits” by James Clear.

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5. Procrastination Results From Our Overconfidence and The Belief That We Perform Better Under Pressure.

People rarely choose to consciously play chicken with the clock. Usually, they start working at the last minute because that’s the point when the fear of failure becomes greater than the fear of doing the actual work. 

Some people also procrastinate because of complexes (rather than because of overconfidence). Namely, when you deliver a project at the last minute, your low scores cannot speak to your self-worth as you had insufficient time for the prescribed work in the first place. In some wry way, such a self-protective attitude prevents you from disappointing yourself.

6. The Best Way to Combat Procrastination is to Actively Push Yourself to Work.

Pushing through procrastination is rarely the most effective strategy to combat this behavior. Procrastination is the outcome, not the cause, and you cannot foster motivation to act without learning where the problem started. Therefore, as a rule of thumb, it is better to seek the real reasons behind procrastination and directly address these issues.

Having that said, as Dr Tim Pychyl explains, making sure that you show up and creating conditions in which work is the most interesting thing to do, helps in naturally overcoming procrastination.

7. Procrastination Always Has Negative Consequences.

This is one truly detrimental stereotype about procrastination. While it obviously can have negative consequences, procrastination can also yield positive outcomes. 

Procrastination can stimulate creativity and lead to innovation in business and technology, as well as help in coping with stress and anxiety. 

At the end of the day, procrastinating happens when you don’t put any constraints on your thoughts and you can freely mind-wander without expecting any specific outcomes. This often leads to the “Eureka!” moments. Some artists and creators consciously schedule procrastination time on their agendas!

Moreover, procrastinating together with friends can lead to building long-lasting bonds. When you think about your high school friends, do you recall group projects at school, or perhaps, all the moments when you were sitting on a bench, staring at the sun, and daydreaming together?

“A man who procrastinates in his choosing will inevitably have his choice made for him by circumstances.”

—Hunter S. Thompson

Common Truths About Procrastination.

1. Procrastination Can Indicate For Some Other Problem That You Should Tackle.

As mentioned before, procrastination is usually a consequence of some other problem, such as, among other reasons: 

  • Tiredness and being overworked,
  • Burnout,
  • Bad condition of the body, for instance apathy caused by dehydration,
  • Boredom and lack of intellectual stimulation of work,
  • Feeling insecure or overly worried about work,
  • Anxiety-related disorders,
  • General fear of the future,
  • Low self-esteem,
  • Lack of joy from what you do for a living,
  • Badly managed or mismatched projects,
  • A belief that you are undervalued of neglected at work,
  • Perfectionism,
  • Natural distractibility, for instance caused by undiagnosed ADHD. 

Or perhaps, you have a fear of failure (also known as atychiphobia)? Or the other way around: a fear of success (also known as achievemephobia)? 

Or perhaps, you are overstimulated by the visual and verbal information in your workplace? Research shows clearly that too much distraction is damaging to the brain and that information diet is the best way to an mentally stable and productive.

Only after you find the real reason of your tendencies for procrastination, you will have a viable chance to tackle your self-destructive behavior at work.

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2. Procrastination Has Far Reaching Consequences.

In the short term, procrastination is associated with various mental and physical health issues, such as stress, decreased immunity, and increased odds of getting cardiovascular illnesses.

Your procrastination habits can jeopardise your job while working from home. According to Resume Builder, 96% of remote companies use employee monitoring software. You should expect that once you start procrastinating, your habits will get uncoveed sooner or later!

Therefore, procrastination may also lead to destroying your image in the employer’s eyes and make them perceive you as a person of low integrity. This situation can yield various employment and financial consequences, including a lower salary and shorter employment contracts.

Procrastination is also associated with multiple academic concerns for students, including lower exam grades, worse GPAs, more course suspensions, and an increased probability of dropping out.

Lastly, if procrastination also happens to you at home, it can also heavily affect your private life. You might disappoint the people who are closest to you — your parents, your partner, your kids — and abuse their trust. So, ask yourself: how serious is this problem? Perhaps, procrastination, is already destroying my life?

3. Procrastination Can Lead to Making Far Better Decisions.

Rushing into a work, project, or item on your to-do list does not guarantee that it will be done successfully or bring significant satisfaction upon completion. While procrastinating your career decisions, you might avoid projects that: 

  1. Just aren’t good for your professional and personal development, or even for your health,
  2. You are ill-equipped or not qualified to do, 
  3. You shouldn’t undertake because they’re someone else’s duty,
  4. Are just not in the right place and at the right time. Just because something is assigned to the task does not always mean it is time to work on it. 

As a consequence of postponing the task, your ultimate decision can be better informed and more reasonable.

4. Procrastination May Generate Your Most Innovative Thoughts.

According to one school of thinking, the initial thoughts or rushed remedies to issues aren’t always the best. The best ideas are often the product of deliberation, considering and comparing several possibilities, and landing on the most suited one or merging some of them in unexpected ways. 

This process is known as dwell period, mind-wandering, or an illustration of a creative process. This is why many experts in the psychology of creativity advise to actively schedule time for procrastination as a creativity stimulant.

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How to Overcome Procrastination.

1. Identify the Primary Cause of Procrastination.

As mentioned before, there are multiple possible reasons behind procrastination. To kill the problem at the source, you need to identify the roots of your personal tendency for procrastination (yes, there might be more than one root!).

For instance, if the underlying problem is burnout, you will need to go through a long process of healing and reprioritizing your goals and tasks. Please find more information in our article “Deconstructing Burnout: Preventing, Diagnosing, and Healing.”

Don’t compare with others here — your friends might suffer from procrastination for entirely different reason than you. This self-discovery process will take time but it is an investment in yourself that you won’t ever regret.

2. Modify Your Way of Thinking About Work.

Many of us get stuck in thinking traps that leave us no way out or forward. If you assume, “This task is too complicated; I’ll never manage,” you make the more challenging aspects of a job way worse while minimizing the benefits.

Because you don’t believe you can do it, your fear becomes your reality. If this is indeed your problem, you should change your way of thinking. It all starts from the first thought, so try to make it positive and stay away from regrets in your professional life.

Instead of complicating your projects by creating mental barriers, split complex tasks into smaller, manageable chunks. Breaking complex and extensive tasks into tiny sub-tasks that you can successfully complete within an hour or two can prompt you to take action. It also allows you to experience a continuous stream of rewarding progress.

Then, choose the “minimal viable step” and just forget about the huge task. While using this technique, you should keep a few things in mind. For example, if your goal is to write a paper for a class, you can break down the enormous task of writing the piece into an ordered list of subtasks you need to perform.

Also, manage your expectations. Most successful people fail in most of their new projects and only share the successful stories, wiping the unsuccessful trials under the carpet. Therefore, don’t freeze when your plans don’t work; assume that your success rate will stay below 100%, take failures into account, get over them as soon as you possibly can and go on.

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3. Discover Your Individual Productivity Patterns.

As trivial as it might seem, everyone is different. Therefore, again, self-discovery is always the first step towards success in professional life.

One of the most important aspects of productivity is finding flow states. Flow states (also referred to as “being in the zone”) are the states of complete focus, and therefore, optimal productivity. You can find your flow states by observing yourself carefully, and tracking your time perception. As a rule of thumb, in flow states, time should fly.

Needless to say, after you find your flow states, you should reserve your most productive hours for these exact activities.

Furthermore, identify your chronotype and optimal daily productivity scheme, and then plan your schedule so that most of your work is scheduled for those periods of high productivity.

You must also determine your “downtime:” the moments of the day when you are less active. Remember that different people have different production processes when accounting for your productivity cycles.

Of course, it is not always the case that you can adjust your working style to your chronotype, especially in corporate environments where teams are closely managed. 

However, hybrid work is becoming increasingly popular and if you have good arguments in your hand, your manager might show understanding for your individual needs and grant you the flexibility you need.

At the same time, make sure that your working pattern is stable and you don’t get overwhelmed by taking too many tasks on your plate. One common technique to keep your agenda under control is the Japanese project management technique commonly known as Kanban.

In Kanban, you control your workflow by visualizing all the tasks: your upcoming tasks, tasks you are working on, and the completed tasks. In that way, you can quickly assess if you have any space in your agenda for taking any new tasks at the moment.

At the same time, it is counterproductive to spend much time on watching materials from the “productivity gurus” such as Matt D’Avella or Ali Abdaal. As a matter of fact, the Pareto principle holds here: you can achieve 80% of the result by using 20% of the possible tricks. The rest is just an unnecessary hassle and a waste of time.

Please find more productivity tips in our articles “Top 13 Productivity Tips For Remote Workers” and “Top 11 Rules For Productivity in the Office. How To Become the Top Performer as a White-Collar Employee?

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4. Create Your Own Deadlines and Milestones.

Following the Parkinson’s law, every activity will take you as much time as you allocate to it. Therefore, in many types of jobs, such as freelancing or academic research, you need to work as your own manager by default. In these conditions, you must take care of your agenda by setting your own deadlines by default.

In corporate environments, many managers consciously take the laissez-faire approach to management. They purposefully give their employees a free hand to choose their own work style. Or, they take the servant approach to leadership and assume from the get-go that they will only serve and help their team members rather than instruct and pace them.

Especially now in the times of remote work, becoming your own pace-maker has become an essential part to virtually any job. Employers expect maturity and skillful self-management, so don’t wait until it’s too late. Avoid the stress — set “fake deadlines” for yourself so that you have buffer!

Furthermore, create a series of minor deadlines or milestones, corresponding to each step you need to complete along the path to your end goal. 

This implies you should create intermediate objectives for yourself, which are little targets to aim for while working toward your ultimate goal. Associate rewards can keep your on track, motivate you in the process, and prevent procrastination.

There are the many quick-fix procrastination aids worth experimenting with here. For example, one compelling study by Neil A. Lewis Jr. et al. described how downsizing larger metrics of time (think 48 hours instead of 2 days, or 10,950 days instead of 30 years) can make events seem more immediate prompting people to engage in upcoming tasks.

5. Dopamine Detox.

One of the best motivators to go something constructive is… boredom. Therefore, go on a “dopamine detox” (or, “dopamine fasting”) as often as possible.

Make sure that there is a minimal amount of distractions in your workplace. Switch off the notifications on your phone. Install social media management software such as Franz on your computer. Stick to a stable dietary plan and stay away from your fridge, and especially from sweet snacks that will simply put you to sleep at work.

6. Find a Pace-Maker.

Accountability is one of the best motivators possible. You might just think to yourself: “Do it as if you were doing this for a friend!” and be surprised by the results.

If that doesn’t help, find a person who can be your pace-maker — a senior mentor, a friend who is currently in a similar professional situation, or a professional coach — you should team up.

You can also make use of online platforms such as FocusMate where you get paired with strangers to work hand in hand in teams of two. The view of another person’s face on screen boosts accountability at work, even if that person is not your formal coworker.

By a rule of thumb, mastermind groups also work well as a source of motivation. Peer mentoring was proven in scientific studies to be one of the most efficient mentoring strategies.

At the same time, beware: announcing your goals and plans to public might not be the best idea. That is for a simple reason: your brain perceives the praise and words of support for your plans as a reward. This means that you receive a mental reward before even starting the task, and your motivation to finish radically decreases.

7. Turn Your Procrastination Time into Creative Time.

The tendency to procrastinate is often a vicious cycle. You procrastinate, so you have conscience and feel guilty. And in turn, you start procrastinating more.

You can break this cycle by turning procrastination into a productive time. While procrastinating, you will probably get multiple creative and crazy ideas — why not write them down?

Create a dumpster file where you can store all your ideas for the future; perhaps you can come back to it later and figure out some new project or create a new piece of writing. This method is commonly referred to as “vomiting.”

8. Feel Proud of Who You Are.

You can change a car, you can change a house, but you will never change yourself into another professional. Whenever you promise finishing projects and then you don’t finish, your personal brand will suffer in one way or another. So, finish your projects. Or, like Buddhists like say, “clean your dish.”

Feel proud of who you are as professional and take care of your personal brand. Make sure that your word means something and that your name becomes a synonym of quality. You can stand in front of the mirror and say to yourself: “My name is Bielczyk. Natalia Bielczyk.” And then just do it.

9. Just Wait.

A study by Beutel et al. (PLoS One, 2016) revealed that that procrastination is the highest in 14-to-29-year-olds, the youngest group of the study participants. This means that people tend to procrastinate less with age, which might be associated with increased conscientiousness, developing coping skills, and general personal development (also known as maturity).

10. Help Yourself in Starting Tasks.

Showing up and giving yourself a little “kick” to overcome resistance that your body and mind give once you are trying to start the task is necessary to overcome procrastination.

For instance, let’s imagine that you are just sitting in front of a blank page and wondering how to start an essay. Nothing comes to mind. Well, in that case, you can help yourself in starting the task, for instance by using a chatbot such as ChatGPT. Once you produce seed text to work on, rewriting and improving it will be easier.

So, don’t be afraid of using AI at work – remember that other tech-savvy professionals use it too! You can find more information on how to effectively deal with AI in your professional career in our article “How To Deal With AI as a Professional and as Business Owner.”

11. Use Cognitive Reframing.

Cognitive reframing means shifting your mindset so you’re able to look at a situation, person, or relationship from a slightly different angle. When that frame is shifted, the meaning changes, and thinking and behavior often change along with it.

Cognitive reframing can help you combat procrastination if you use it to see the your situation more positive light using the classic “glass half full or half empty” scenario. If you procrastinate a task, it means that you feel pressure to do it well, and it implies that the task is important for you. 

This, in itself, is good news! It means that you do have internal motivation to complete the task. Now the whole difficulty is how to arrange your incentivization system and agenda to actually make sure it is done.

12.* Imagine Yourself in The Future.

Recent research suggests that visualising yourself in the future could be a novel way to beat procrastination. Sessions of visual imagery lead to a so-called “future-self continuity” and motivate to take steps toward the dream future right here right now.

Conclusion: How to Cure from Procrastination?

Procrastination is not a disease — it is a state of mind. To stop procrastinating, you should first get to know yourself better, set your goals straight, and experiment with various working schemes.

There are lots of good resources for how to avoid and combat procrastination available online, for instance:

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Please cite as:

Siddiqui, H. A.Bielczyk, N. (2023, January 23rd). Common Truths and Myths about Procrastination. How to Cure from Procrastination? 

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